Ethical Bankruptcy in the Environmental Movement: A Case Study

Two environmental groups sue the sole source of a philanthropic cause in an outrageous display of conflicting interests

With the brawl surrounding the proposed development of an 18 hole golf course and some 70 luxury home sites in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Canyon Club, entering the final stages, guessing the outcome could stifle even the most seasoned bookie. Both sides are deeply entrenched, bracing for the legal and regulatory high water that will wash the other party downstream, as we the public watch with great anticipation to see whether property rights or environmental interests remain holding the high ground.

The community of Jackson Hole throws a celebration each year for an event called Old Bill’s Fun Run. An old salt has endowed a foundation allowing Jackson based non-profit organizations to greatly increase their funding by making matching grants to funds raised privately. It is a great time, not only because the community gets to share in the development and sustenance of the non-profit subculture but hopefully see the good that most of them bring. That’s right, I said most. As I was browsing the list of organizations that were to receive matching funds from the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, two jumped from the pages of the beige covered “Directory of Non-Profit Organizations-2002”. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance are listed in that publication and have also been front and center in the news these past few months. For the uninitiated, the two groups have been driving forces in the legal battle against the Canyon Club.

The meat of the financial backers involved in the Canyon Club includes Alan Tessler, Bill Simpson, and Bill Newton. That would be the same Mr. Newton that has given millions of dollars to non-profit organizations in Jackson Hole for just shy of a decade through Old Bill’s Fun Run. With just a quick call over to the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance I found out that last year they received the maximum amount allowable from the Community Foundation. The GYC didn’t have such detailed information readily available, but the receptionist said that they have been receiving matching grants for “about four years”. It is interesting, if not scandalous, that the two organizations are giving the proposed Canyon Club, of which Mr. Newton is a primary investor, the most trouble. Suing the very business structure that funds your operation is a clear case of biting the hand that feeds you- and is poor taste.

In an era where trust in corporate, public, and non-profit institutions has hit rock bottom, it is just this type of malicious double speak that endangers a system that benefits so many. Where is the accountability in these organizations? In a blaring display of conflicting interests, the environmental movement has accepted funds from the very source that it is attacking. This happens all the time at the national level, as corporations hope to entice volatile environmental interests to other orbits with sizable contributions, but in our little slice of heaven, we deserve better. With all of the sharp minds up at the GYC, surely someone has discussed or even casually mentioned this case of singed ethics.

In the Grant Guidelines developed by the Community Foundation, the foundation does not make grants for use in “political organizations or campaigns” or “organizations working primarily to influence legislation”. It sure looks like the GYC and the JHCA are treading in shark infested waters with their overtly political actions. While I’m not an expert on legislative agendas, having a call to action on the second page in from your website in bold red letters stating “Please urge your U.S. Senators to push for a plan…” and having a letter ready to cut and paste in your email to Capitol Hill sounds like it is against the rules to me. Influencing legislation is a rampant abuse of a philanthropic program once aimed at helping the community.

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, and any other group that is on the matching funds list, needs to withdraw the lawsuit they have filed against the Canyon Club and should return any matching funds to the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole . Allowing the foundation funded activities of the GYC and the JHCA to continue will only jeopardize future giving programs and place further nails in a coffin whose pall bears are the unenviable traits of compromised integrity and slight of hand- just to name a few.

Not only do I question the integrity and ethics of the grant seekers, I have to question the judgment of bright men, like Mr. Newton, who help finance “charitable organizations” that fight the very progress and type of activities that make profits which can be given away.

Stephen A. McDonald is a writer living in Jackson Hole. Mr. McDonald is not affiliated with the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole or any of the listed organizations.

Stephen A. McDonald Bigtreenews.Com

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